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The Farm Bill is intended to support research to maintain and improve the agricultural and food sectors, and to support the production of a safe, nutritious, abundant, and affordable food supply. It also authorizes nutrition and conservation programs, and paves the way for agriculturally based renewable energy. The multiple-year bill (typically five years) covers key agricultural and food issues and was last signed into law on May 13, 2002. Therefore, it is up for reauthorization this year.
There are 11 titles in the 2007 House Farm Bill; Horticulture & Organic Agriculture, an area of interest to many in the food industry, is a new title added this year. The House passed its version of the Farm Bill on July 27; the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version on October 25, and the bill was introduced to the full Senate on November 2. At press time, the Senate still had not approved its Farm Bill, leaving many wondering if they can complete it before 2008 or if an extension of the 2002 Farm Bill will occur. After the House and Senate have both approved final versions of the bill, they must then conference to generate one Farm Bill which will be presented to the President for approval.
The 2002 Farm Bill altered the farm payment program and introduced counter-cyclical farm income support; expanded conservation land retirement programs and emphasized on-farm environmental practices; relaxed rules to make more borrowers eligible for federal farm credit assistance; restored food stamp eligibility for legal immigrants; added various commodities to those requiring country-of-origin labeling; and introduced provisions on animal welfare.
Many equate the Farm Bill with crop subsidies. This is a large and controversial part of the bill which affects the food industry and consumers by impacting the price of many staple commodities. In the House version of the bill, subsidies are generally unchanged from 2002 levels. There is also language in the House bill affecting states’ rights to ban some foods, which many attribute to foods derived from genetically modified crops. The House bill contains provisions for small meat processors to be inspected by state authorities rather than federal, i.e., the U.S.Dept. of Agriculture.
There is the potential that the current Farm Bill being debated will have more direct impact on food science and the food industry, primarily as a result of recent food safety and import events. There were multiple calls for changes to the existing food regulatory structure in different versions debated by the Senate. The final Senate Agriculture Committee version of the bill does include language calling for the creation of a Congressional Bipartisan Food Safety Commission, which will recommend ways to harmonize food safety statutes and suggest funding needed by federal agencies to fulfill their food safety mandates. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is also included in the November 2 Senate bill. NIFA would serve as a source of research funding for food and agriculture, as a new USDA science agency. All current Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) programs would be consolidated in this agency, possibly along with other programs.
Title VII on Research has typically been of greatest concern to food scientists. The 2002 Research Title reauthorized and established new agricultural research and extension programs; extended previous funding provisions to FY 2007, replacing dollar amounts with “such sums as are necessary to carry out” the research; expressed the “sense of Congress” that agricultural research funding double over the next five years; increased funding for the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems and increased annual program levels from $120 million to $200 million in FY 2006; established a biosecurity planning and response program; and established grant programs for biotechnology risk assessment research and biotechnology research on crops important for developing countries. Language proposed by USDA for the 2007 Farm Bill included combining the Agricultural Research Service and CSREES, providing $1 billion for specialty crop research over the next 10 years, and designating funding to research renewable fuels and bio-based energy.
It is expected that the 2007 Farm Bill will cost roughly $283 billion over the course of five years, and any new initiatives in the bill must show a source of funding. This clearly presents challenges. Past Farm Bills have included mandates that went unfunded.
by Jennifer Cleveland McEntire, Ph.D.
([email protected]), is Research Scientist, Dept. of Science and Technology Projects,
by Sarah F. Davis, R.D.
([email protected]), is Staff Scientist,
Office of Science, Communications, & Government Relations,
Institute of Food Technologists,
1025 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.